The Home Office is one of the UK Government’s main departments of state with a mission to keep citizens safe and secure. In 2013, the Government Digital Service began working with Home Office departments to deliver 25 examples of high-quality, high-volume, citizen-facing digital transactions. We were engaged to establish and oversee these so-called ‘Home Office exemplars’, and to use them as a means of driving change in the organisation to create services which are ‘digital by default services' and digital ways of working.
We started the Visa exemplar, with the aim to totally overhaul the UK’s visa application service and deliver a cost-effective digital service. At the time, the number of Visa types was unknown but were well over 100. The existing technology and its suppliers were incapable of supporting a service that would need to meet the new Live UK Government Service required standards. And, there was no significant civil service understanding of the technology tools they had or needed. The past 7 years had seen a number of failing IT projects: over £500M spent but with no usable results.
To deliver key steps of change we:
i) rapidly built a strong digital delivery team of experts - a mix of suppliers and civil servants to create a team of a wide range of competencies
ii) empowered and mentored a small team of civil servants into key roles
iii) delivered a research phase to understand user needs and identified an innovative approach to solving the complex business issues
iv) delivered a visa application service prototype that impressed users and provided low cost business flexibility v) made the case for GOV.UK to be multilingual in order for content to be indexed by foreign language search engines vi) rolled out China Visit Visas to acclaim in a little over a year from start vii) progressively expanded to other languages and visa types viii) passed the Live UK Government Service Standard in just over 2 years from starting
The UK visa application service is now available in over 200 countries around the world in 19 languages, and it handles nearly 3 million transactions and £1Billion of revenues annually. It has been lauded by senior members of UK Government, and won the Best Public Sector Project of the Year in the Computer Weekly European User Awards 2015.
We established and guided the delivery of a global, multi-lingual, fully digital, Visa Application service for non-UK citizens of high standard and operating at a reduced cost to previous systems. The improvements resulted in an increased digital capability of the UK Civil Service, and heightened senior management awareness of the crucial role of digital to the future of government.
Crucially, this work started the Home Office transformation that we have continued to drive, helping to create a new digital division of 450 people in four years. It has included establishing a team in Sheffield from a specific initiative we proposed and championed. Many of the civil servants involved in the original Visa exemplar project have gone on to hold senior digital positions in government, now owning and continuing the focus of putting users-first.